Walk through Goa’s temple district and
soak in a culture that weaves in legends, myths
and historical facts just in an easily as the
temple florist weaves springs of jasmines, frangipani
flowers and abolims into ritualistic offerings
for the gods.
Begin this tour at Nagesh Temple, Mhardol, a
soothing balm for both eye and mind. It is probably
the only Hindu temple in Goa that remained unaffected
by the religious persecution of the 16th and 17th
centuries and sports a gallery of breathtaking
woodcarvings depicting scenes from Hindu epics.
Legend has it that a cowherd noticed that one
of his c cows sprinkled a particular spot with
her milk everyday. On examining the spot, he discovered
a shivalinga and believed it was swayambhu (self-generated).
Another legend recounts how a Brahmin was believed
to have seen a cow jump into a river at a particular
spot everyday and submerge herself. On diving
himself, the Brahmin is said to have found the
Nagesh Maharudra linga. Perhaps on account of
this legend, the temple tank at Nagesh (Nagzar)
is considered the most sacred of all temple tanks
in Goa. Look for the stone slab inscribed in Marathi
and dated 1413 that refers to a donation made
to the temple by one Mayeen Shenvi Wagle, an officer
of the kingdom during the reign of Veer Pratap
Devaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire. The donation
was in the form of paddy fields and houses! Apparently,
the donor was also known as Nagnath, nath being
a popular suffix in 12th century Goa.
That the temple dates backs to Kadamba rule is
proven from a copper plate that describes the
settlement of a dispute between a goldsmiths’
guild and a group of vaishyas (merchants) in the
year 1221 Saka (Hindu calendar) or 1299 A.D. Unfortunately,
the copper plate is not on display at the sire.
What is interesting is that an earlier inscription
dates this temple to the 1099 A.D. and stone relics
found on the site date the temple to the 8th century.
The most recent intervention was done by one Sri
Wadiya from Kumbarajuvem who rebuilt the temple
in 1780 on behalf of two widows from the family
of one Fonde Kamat Kumbarjuvekar. The temple has
several myths and legends associated with it and
these are often referred to in Konkani folk music.
The only cultural link between folk worships and
contemporary Hindu ritual, this monument stands
like a jewel in the crown of the temples of Goa.
It is often conjectured that the name of the
temple comes from the Indian word nag for cobra
but it is doubtful if the name Nagnath, Nagesh
or Nagzar has anything to do with the snake that
is revered all over India. Look for the stone
image of a king cobra at the foot of a pipal tree
(ficus religiosa) towards the right as you face
the temple. The deepmala or lamp tower also sports
a sculpted band of king cobras but these are all
recent additions perhaps based on ancient sculptures
found at the site. One must remember that the
ancient Aryans had a profound respect for the
snake. Lord Vishnu in his Shesh Vishnu form lies
on a bed of snakes. Lord Ganesha has a cobra girdling
his generous waist and a king cobra adorns the
dread locks of Lord Shiva. Besides the cobra is
mythically supposed to guard family’s wealth
and reputation so having their stone images around
one of Goa’s wealthiest temples was seen
as a symbol of security.
Real treasures, however, await you if you go
on towards the other temples in this district.
You can either go northwards towards the Ramnathi
Temple or eastwards towards the temple decided
the goddess Shantadurga. If you decide to go to
Ramnathi, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise.
It is spotlessly clean, airy and filled with bright
sunshine. One of the most interesting aspects
of the Hindu temples of Ponda is that all of them
seem to have been located at vantage points in
the landscape, have expansive grounds, beautiful
water tanks and own large commercial coconut and
betel nut plantations. Given the fact that these
deities were brought in the dead of night from
Salcete in the South of Got in an extremely harsh
political climate it does seem rather curious
that the first impression they give any visitor
is one of material rather than spiritual wealth.
Take the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, popularly
called the Ramnathi Temple in Kavlem. Surrounded
by Vegetable plots, belel nut, coconut plantations
and fruit orchards, this temple makes more then
a statement of mere sustenance. It has its own
water source and although it welcomes donations
from devotees, it does not depend on these for
its survival. The temple itself is a symbol of
defiance against the erstwhile Portuguese regime.
Legend has it that Ramnath, a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin
and a resident of Loutolim village in Salcete,
was so upset with the destruction of the original
in the Vargaon ward of his village that he filed
a case against the Portuguese Governor-General.
These were hard times for Goans in Goa. Any opposition
to the state was dealt with severely. Yet, not
only did the Brahmin have the courage to protest,
he also refused to accept an offer from the Governor-General
to rebuild the temple. He insisted, instead, that
the Governor-General be recalled to Portugal for
wounding the sensibilities of the local population!